“Prove yourselves to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation; among whom you appear as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)
The worst time to preach on money is when you need some, pastor. The second worst time is when the church needs some.
The best time to preach on money is all the other times.
That said, here are a number of cautions for you to consider before walking into that lions’ den to tame the monster called greed.
1) Get your own house in order. Now, it’s possible to preach on prayer while knowing you have a long way to go in that respect. You can preach on good works and witnessing even if your record is spotty. You can do so because everyone has room for improvement in these areas. But when it comes to giving/stewardship, you can know when you are doing well.
The Christian is to be a giver. That means a hefty portion of his/her income will go into the church offering (whether you call it a tithe or something else), and believers will also be generous to the poor, to the needy around them, even to their enemies (Luke 6:30-35).
So, unless you are faithful in giving to your church, kind to the beggars you meet on the street, and generous in your tips to waiters and waitresses, hold off about preaching on stewardship. You have a bit of catching up to do.
2) Know your congregation. Make sure they will receive this. Not all congregations are alike. Some will rejoice at a good tithing/stewardship sermon, while others will organize a lynch mob.
Last Sunday, I brought a stewardship message to a local church (I was the visiting preacher) and was “amened” throughout. That is no infallible measurement of anything, of course, but it’s a good sign for a congregation that they welcome this kind of message.
3) Make sure you are not operating in the flesh, but in the Spirit. That is, consider whether this sermon is a good idea of yours because the financial need in the church is great. Has the Lord specifically laid this on your heart? Or, are you angry at the way the deacons shut down your request for a raise?
If you can’t tell the difference in the two–in preaching in the Spirit and in the flesh–you’re already in trouble. (This is not to say we cannot preach on stewardship when the financial need in the church is reaching the critical point. Only that we must do so “in the Spirit,” meaning the Lord leads us to do this, leads us to the sermon, and empowers the proclamation.)
Paul said, “Let each of us do just as he has purposed in his heart; not grudgingly or under compulsion; for God loves a cheerful giver” (II Corinthians 9:7).
4) Keep stewardship of one’s entire life uppermost in mind. What one does with his money is not the whole story. It’s a big part of the story, but there are many other things to consider too.
Paul said of the Macedonians, “They first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God” (II Corinthians 8:5). Only then were they able to bring the kind of offering which would please the Father. In another place he said, “For I do not seek yours but you.” He told the Philippians, “Not that I seek the gift itself, but I seek for the profit which increases to your account” (Phil. 4:17).
The church member who wants to fight the preacher who said God wants him to tithe has a problem and it’s not a financial one. He is in rebellion against God, and the wallet-protection thing is just the symptom.
Call people to “present your bodies as a living sacrifice,” pastor (Romans 12:1). Once they make this commitment, everything else falls into place.
5) Somewhere within the body of the message you should address the primary objections in the minds of some concerning stewardship. How you do that is up to you.
Last Sunday, in the early moments of my message on stewardship, I played a small drama with the people. After reading the text, Matthew 6:19-21, I said, “I want you to imagine that we are in a church business conference with me as your moderator. We have a motion on the floor, it has been seconded, that the guest preacher–me–be asked to bring a message on money (stewardship, finances, tithing, greed, materialism, however you want to phrase it). Now, the floor is open for discussion, Person Number One arises and says…”
Earlier, I had arranged for two men and two women to stand and voice objections to the motion using sentences I gave them. “Do it vigorously,” I instructed.
Person 1 shouted, “We don’t like sermons on money!”
Person 2 shouted, “You preachers are just after our money!”
Person 3 called out, “Our church is doing all right financially. We don’t need a sermon on giving.”
Person 4 said, “Tithing is Old Testament. It’s of the Law and we’re under grace.”
Then, in the introduction, I took no more than 3 or 4 minutes to respond to those statements, beginning with, “Each of these has a point. Each objection is true in a way.”
It is true that we don’t like sermons on money when we are not giving. It’s human nature.
It is true that some preachers are just after our money. But because some get it wrong does not mean we shouldn’t do it the right way.
It’s good if the church’s finances are being met, but that is only one of a hundred reasons for us to give and the pastor to speak on stewardship.
And yes, tithing is indeed of the Old Testament. And the New Testament also. It’s all through the Old Testament Law, but grace is likewise all through the Bible, from beginning to end. We give because He first gave to us, not because He is exacting a tenth from us.
6. Watch the temptation to get legalistic here.
A tithe is one-tenth. This is the only area of our discipleship that has a specific number attached to it. We are not told to pray so many times a day, so many days a week. We’re not instructed to read our Bible a certain number of times or to worship so many times in any period. But we do have this number–one-tenth–to guide us in our giving.
Those who accuse us of over-emphasizing the tithe are often correct. We have been known to do that. While the tithe does figure into New Testament thinking at various times, it’s not a major player. But proportionate giving is (I Corinthians 16:2 and II Corinthians 8:3 for starters), and if that means anything to me, it surely says the “under-grace,” redeemed of the Lord should do as much or more than the “under-law” faithful of the former days.
7) Beware of the tendency in yourself–and help your people to do so–of trying to figure how little you can give.
Nothing is more foreign to the spirit of Jesus Christ than that. “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sake He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich” (II Corinthians 8:9).
If you have been noticing a tendency within yourself to cut your giving, to figuring how to take a larger slice of the pie for yourself, I would say you have some serious giving to do. Your old nature–that grasping, greedy Scrooge nature that is never satisfied with all he has–needs to be put back in his cage, and nothing does that like a healthy dose of generous giving.
There are few joys in the ministry greater than striding to the pulpit on a Sunday morning knowing that your message on giving is from the Lord and that you yourself are illustrating its truths in your personal life. Go in His Spirit and trust Him for the fruit, and you will make a lasting difference in the lives of your people.